Theresa May first burst into the public consciousness in 2002, when her Conservative Party was in the political wilderness and Tony Blair's Labour government was at the height of its popularity. That year, May, a member of Parliament since 1997, spoke at a party conference and warned her Tory colleagues that the public saw them as the "nasty party." The phrase became a rallying cry for a new brand of Tory personified by May and her ideological ally, David Cameron, who combined traditional Conservative economic ideas with moderate stances on gay rights and the environment. The formula worked. In 2010, Cameron arrived at 10 Downing Street and named May as his home secretary and minister for women and equality. She's only the fourth woman to hold one of Britain's four "Great Offices," which also include prime minister, chancellor of the Exchequer, and foreign secretary. May, 55, has had a tumultuous first two years, particularly regarding her zero-tolerance response to last August's London riots. Her biggest challenge may come this summer: heading up the massive security effort for the 2012 Olympics.
When Fatou Bensouda becomes the second chief prosecutor of the 10-year-old International Criminal Court (ICC) in June, look for her to raise its still-young profile. Over the course of her nine-year term, she will oversee cases against the likes of Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo, Sudan's Omar Hassan al-Bashir, and the fugitive Lord's Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony. All are notable not only for the scale of their atrocities but also for where they were perpetrated: Each of the court's 15 cases so far has involved incidents in Africa, which, by Bensouda's reckoning, has led to a perception of the ICC as a "Western court" targeting her home continent. A native of Gambia, where she has held multiple cabinet positions, the 51-year-old Bensouda was educated in Nigeria and rose to the international stage when she worked in the prosecution of leaders of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Now she's vowing to pursue the world's worst perpetrators -- with equal fervor, "in Africa or outside Africa."
After Felipe Calderón's attorney general resigned last year, the Mexican president desperately needed to prove his government would finally crack down on drug violence, which has claimed more than 40,000 lives since he took office in 2006. Calderón's new pick, Marisela Morales, not only was the first female appointed to the post, but also had an international reputation for her hard line on crime. A career prosecutor known for combining chutzpah with a strong sympathy for victims, the 42-year-old Morales tackled gang violence in Mexico City before taking the helm of the country's organized crime agency in 2008. There, she helped create Mexico's first witness protection program, launched an initiative to reunite trafficking victims with their children, and fired more than two dozen officials, including her predecessor, for selling tips to a leading drug gang. In her first 100 days as attorney general, 462 officials in her office were dismissed and another 111 faced criminal charges.
The windows of the palaces of Pyongyang are notoriously dark. Still, some North Korea watchers suspect the real power behind the throne resides with 65-year-old Kim Kyong Hui and her husband, Jang Song Thaek. Kim is the daughter of North Korea's founder, Kim Il Sung, the sister of the last ruler, Kim Jong Il, and the aunt of the current leader, Kim Jong Un. Her husband was a close confidant of the middle Kim. Officially, General Kim is the director of North Korea's Light Industry Department, but her pedigree, connections, and longevity -- she appears to have been a member of North Korea's inner circle for more than 40 years -- mean she and her powerful husband might be instructing the country's untested young leader from the wings. Whether Kim the aunt would lead North Korea closer to détente with the United States than Kim the nephew is anybody's guess.
Valerie Amos doesn't quite fit the mold of a baroness. The 58-year-old Briton, born in the former British colony of Guyana, was the first black leader of the House of Lords and the first black woman appointed to a cabinet position. As a British minister, Amos focused on efforts to alleviate poverty in Africa through debt relief and private investment initiatives. In her role as U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, Amos over the past two years has increasingly started showing up as a player in the world's conflict zones. She has spearheaded relief efforts in earthquake-stricken Haiti, seen to the needs of Libyan refugees along the border with Tunisia, and visited war-torn Somalia as it struggled with a devastating famine. In March, she was the first international official allowed to visit the obliterated neighborhood of Baba Amr in the Syrian city of Homs, the symbol of President Bashar al-Assad's brutal crackdown. "I was devastated by what I saw," she said. "That part of Homs is totally destroyed. There are no people left."